Never Call Me a Hero: A Legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers the Battle of Midway

So, after too long of a hiatus due to family medical issues, I am finally getting back into reading and reviewing.

First up, N. Jack Kleiss (with Timothy and Laura Orr) recounts Kleiss’s role in the pivotal battle in the book Never Call Me A Hero: A Legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers the Battle of Midway. This past June was the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.

An overview of the book from the publisher:

On the morning of June 4, 1942, high above the tiny Pacific atoll of Midway, Lt. (j.g.) “Dusty” Kleiss burst out of the clouds and piloted his SBD Dauntless into a near-vertical dive aimed at the heart of Japan’s Imperial Navy, which six months earlier had ruthlessly struck Pearl Harbor. The greatest naval battle in history raged around him, its outcome hanging in the balance as the U.S. desperately searched for its first major victory of the Second World War. Then, in a matter of seconds, Dusty Kleiss’s daring 20,000-foot dive helped forever alter the war’s trajectory.

I love the title of this book. Kleiss never considered himself a hero for doing a job that thousands of other men did throughout the war – flew as pilots for the United States Army, Air Forces or Navy. The word hero has been thrown around so many times that it is now somewhat cheapened when it is used – which is too bad because there are/were some true heroes.

Kleiss’s account of the battle from his perspective is riveting. His detailed analysis of how everything transpired is a testament to the professionalism and expertise of the Navy pilots. Kleiss rightly criticizes naval commanders for their plan to form a large gaggle of planes from the three carriers – the pilots knew it would take too long – and then attack the Japanese fleet.

Kleiss’s personal account of the battle is touching. He brings the personal costs into focus. For example, he recounts the last time he saw his flight school buddy the morning of the attack. They both knew that his friend was going on a suicide mission (his friend was a torpedo plane pilot) because all naval pilots in the Pacific knew the defective nature of American torpedoes. You can sense his raw emotions of the moment even decades after it occurred.

The blow-by-blow account of the battle from a pilot’s perspective is great. Kleiss details what it was like to dive bomb a ship and see the results of a successful bombing run. Although morbid, he describes seeing parts of the ship and men flying in the air because of the explosions. Yet another description of war as hell.

Never Call Me a Hero is a fantastic first person account of the Battle of Midway.

Never Call Me a Hero Book Cover Never Call Me a Hero
N. Jack "Dusty" Kleiss, Timothy Orr, Laura Orr,
Biography & Autobiography
William Morrow
May 30, 2017
368

On the morning of June 4, 1942, high above the tiny Pacific atoll of Midway, Lt. (j.g.) "Dusty" Kleiss burst out of the clouds and piloted his SBD Dauntless into a near-vertical dive aimed at the heart of Japan’s Imperial Navy, which six months earlier had ruthlessly struck Pearl Harbor. The greatest naval battle in history raged around him, its outcome hanging in the balance as the U.S. desperately searched for its first major victory of the Second World War. Then, in a matter of seconds, Dusty Kleiss’s daring 20,000-foot dive helped forever alter the war’s trajectory.

Plummeting through the air at 240 knots amid blistering anti-aircraft fire, the twenty-six-year-old pilot from USS Enterprise’s elite Scouting Squadron Six fixed on an invaluable target—the aircraft carrier Kaga, one of Japan’s most important capital ships. He released three bombs at the last possible instant, then desperately pulled out of his gut-wrenching 9-g dive. As his plane leveled out just above the roiling Pacific Ocean, Dusty’s perfectly placed bombs struck the carrier’s deck, and Kaga erupted into an inferno from which it would never recover.

Arriving safely back at Enterprise, Dusty was met with heartbreaking news: his best friend was missing and presumed dead along with two dozen of their fellow naval aviators. Unbowed, Dusty returned to the air that same afternoon and, remarkably, would fatally strike another enemy carrier, Hiryu. Two days later, his deadeye aim contributed to the destruction of a third Japanese warship, the cruiser Mikuma, thereby making Dusty the only pilot from either side to land hits on three different ships, all of which sank—losses that crippled the once-fearsome Japanese fleet.

By battle’s end, the humble young sailor from Kansas had earned his place in history—and yet he stayed silent for decades, living quietly with his children and his wife, Jean, whom he married less than a month after Midway. Now his extraordinary and long-awaited memoir, Never Call Me a Hero, tells the Navy Cross recipient’s full story for the first time, offering an unprecedentedly intimate look at the "the decisive contest for control of the Pacific in World War II" (New York Times)—and one man’s essential role in helping secure its outcome.

Dusty worked on this book for years with naval historians Timothy and Laura Orr, aiming to publish Never Call Me a Hero for Midway’s seventy-fifth anniversary in June 2017. Sadly, as the book neared completion in 2016, Dusty Kleiss passed away at age 100, one of the last surviving dive-bomber pilots to have fought at Midway. And yet the publication of Never Call Me a Hero is a cause for celebration: these pages are Dusty’s remarkable legacy, providing a riveting eyewitness account of the Battle of Midway, and an inspiring testimony to the brave men who fought, died, and shaped history during those four extraordinary days in June, seventy-five years ago.

About the author

Jeff Grim

Jeff Grim has been a reader all of his life. He has had a particular interest in military history, any war at any time. His fascination with military history has brought him to an interest in historical fiction where the history comes alive with fictitious heroes and villains. Recently, Jeff has become interested in historical mysteries set in various time periods.

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